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May 14, 2012

Dan Hughes

Gary Kloppenburg

Carol Ross

Mike Thibault

John Whisenant

THE MODERATOR:  Joining us now are four of our coaches:  From San Antonio, Dan Hughes; from Tulsa, Gary Kloppenburg, from Los Angeles Carol Ross, and from Connecticut, Mike Thibault.  Mike, I know you're getting ready for a game this evening, so thank all of you for joining us.

Q.  I have two questions.  The first is I can't imagine just from my perspective looking at your rosters and seeing how tightly bunched they are and how competitive they are that trying to figure out where new players may fit must be a real challenge.  I'm wondering from your perspectives, is the 11‑man roster perhaps the biggest most annoying problem you have, and do you see it changing?
MIKE THIBAULT:  You and I have talked about this enough.  Coaches' perspectives and owners' perspectives are really different because coaches don't write out the checks.  I don't know about the other coaches, but I would love to have‑‑ to go back to the 12 or 13 because I think we're letting some pretty good players go out of this league.  I think from a practice standpoint, it's a huge issue, balancing your roster every year, trying to choose between the number of posts and the number of perimeter players.  And then if you have a player or two hurt during the year how do you practice if you don't have practice players every day.  It's very difficult.
But again, having said that, I don't write the checks.  I would love to see it change, but I don't know that it's going to.

Q.  What do you think, Dan?  You've been on both sides of the fence, GM and coach.  Where do you see it?
DAN HUGHES:  Well, I loved it back in the day when you had a salary cap and you could choose whether you had 11, 12 or 13 players.  I miss those days to be honest with you, because I think putting together the team‑‑ and I know that doesn't account for some of the monies that are spent when I would go to‑‑ I am talking basically on salary cap.  But I miss it.  I don't know you'll talk to any coach who doesn't find it really difficult to deal with 11 players, and not only practice, but even‑‑ you have to make decisions and look long‑term and foresee a future that sometimes are unforeseeable.  It's very, very hard.

Q.  And the second question has to do with the Olympic break, but mostly with the success the United States Olympic program has had over the last two decades with basically no practice time, I know Mike and Dan, you can talk directly because of your experience with USA Basketball, but how is it the United States manages to do as much as they've done internationally with such a frantic, frenetic, unpredictable schedule leading up to the limb games?
DAN HUGHES:  I think they have great coaches like Mike Thibault on their staff.  I think some coaches have done some great jobs.  I think we have players that have made it work.  It is less than ideal, but it is what it is, and I think there's a lot of pride taken into‑‑ it's a little bit like coaching in our league.  You gather a make‑it‑work attitude in a less than ideal situation.
MIKE THIBAULT:  I would agree.  It's never going to be easy.  It helps as a general rule you have the best players in the world overall.  Other countries are progressing and get being better and it's going to get harder and harder.  But we have the depth that a lot of other countries don't have.
Let's just take, for example, if four or five players had decided they couldn't play on this national team.  We would not have had a hard time finding four or five more really good players.  Maybe not the same way when you construct the team a little bit differently, but it would be much better.  Much like on the men's side, they had one Olympic team and when they went to the world championship basically 10 of the 12 players were new.  We're very fortunate in the U.S. to have depth and we're very fortunate that our players kind of have an understanding of how to play together.

Q.  Dan, did you go to Seattle this weekend?

Q.  Coach Hughes, the way Minnesota played last year through the regular season and through the Playoffs, and now they pretty much have everyone back from last year, are they the team to beat?  Do they have a target on their backs?  What do you guys have to do to knock them off?
DAN HUGHES:  Well, you know, I think all of us from the beginning point, like when I prepare my team, if my goal is to win a championship, the picture in my mind is Minnesota, as to what they did and what they are capable of doing.  So yes, I mean, however you want to say it, I think they're positioned to be the team that's the mark that we're all shooting to be in competition with or better.

Q.  And how tough is it when you have a team like that that steamrolls through a season and basically they have everyone back?
DAN HUGHES:  Yeah, I mean, no question.  But those of us who have‑‑ and me more so than maybe some, every year has a uniqueness.  That's what I tell our teams constantly.  That's the up and down of pro sports is there's a uniqueness to every year.
They're a very good team and they're sitting in a very good position, but there will be a uniqueness to 2012 that's going to be all its own.
MIKE THIBAULT:  And most of it won't be predictable because I think all of us feel as coaches, back to what John alluded to about the rosters, in this league we're all one injury away from having a very tough, struggling season.
Any team is vulnerable in this league to all those kind of things.

Q.  Question for Coach Ross:  How has your transition going to LA been, and what do you see that you guys have to do to knock off Minnesota there?
CAROL ROSS:  Well, the transition, you know, it's just like any other.  There's a lot of work to be done, and it's a long journey.  You know, you just hope every day that you're a little bit better than you were yesterday.  It's just melding bodies and personalities and trying to get a team on the floor that is going to play the way they're capable of.
Coaching is coaching and teams are teams.  There's personalities, which I enjoy, and everybody brings a little something different, which is the beauty of trying to blend abilities.  It's just a work in progress.

Q.  This is a question for Coach Ross:  I guess you would say the preliminary viewpoint of your team from an outsider would be you've got a lot of answers on the interior, it's sort of a matter of who's healthy and how you difficult have I up the minutes, but there's more question marks on your perimeter game.  Is that a fair assessment so far, and have you found in the short time that you've had camp that you've found a few more answers on the perimeter if that's the case?
CAROL ROSS:  I still have got a lot more questions than I have answers.  It's just that time of year where you're trying to figure out what is and what can be.  I mean, we've got‑‑ talent has not been the problem.  It wasn't the problem before I rode into town.  It's trying to make sure that we put the talent that's here in the best position possible, and to, again, make sure that the intangibles that go with great teams are in place.
You know, certainly Candace Parker, she's a great force on the inside.  She's a great force on the outside at times.  Ogwumike comes in with a lot of energy, and she's as good as everybody said she would be, in all ways.
So there are pieces, and hopefully they will turn into answers instead of questions, but I think we're just not at a point yet where we know all we should know or will know.

Q.  If I can follow up with a question for Coach Thibault, a couple years ago you had a real, real young team, two years ago, and you were sort of projecting out, you thought maybe if everybody stayed healthy, stayed together, that this season might be a little closer to the team that you really‑‑ the group that you really hoped they could be.  Do you think that's going to be the case with the team you have this year?
MIKE THIBAULT:  I hope so.  I mean, they have kind of a quiet confidence about them.  They've earned some of it.  Some of it they still have to go.  A year ago at the end of the year we were still the youngest team in the league, but we had gotten to the point where they felt like every time they walked on the court they had a chance to win, and we ended up tied with, I think, Seattle and Indiana with the second best record in the league.
But we weren't a great road team.
So I think for them to make another step in their progress, they're going to have to become a much better fourth quarter road team.
The answer to your question is I hope we are, but that probably will be the different if we are, is to learn how to do that.  We were a really, really good home team last year, but we struggled with leads late in games on the road.  We had leads, but we couldn't hold them, and I think that that's the next level in our maturity is to do that.

Q.  I know this was talked about earlier, but I'd still like to approach that subject again.  Regarding the roster sizes, is that discussion, is it dead and gone, or has it been talked about in your coaches' meeting in the off season?  If it has, then why haven't more coaches seen that as a need?
MIKE THIBAULT:  Well, all the coaches, I think, see it as a need that's brought up in rules and comp.  We don't have anything to say about it, though.  It's purely an owner's‑‑ and to some degree a collective bargaining agreement issue.  If there's coaches that disagree, I don't know.  But the owners are the ones that spend the money, and it's not just a salary issue.  When you're talking about other players in this league, you're talking about insurance, housing, transportation, hotels, accommodations on the road, all of those things, and we're in a situation where we're trying to make this a league that's soluble with a profit if we can, but at least every team feels like they're on the right track.  So that's strictly an owners and Players Association issue to work out.  It's not a coaches issue.  It comes up every year with coaches, but it really doesn't matter at this point what we think.
GARY KLOPPENBURG:  I would back that up.  I think we can see even in the league this year, we had a situation with Tiffany Jones who's pregnant, and we would have had to have kept her as one of our 11 players.  I know the same situation in Phoenix with Penny Taylor.  We know she's out all year long, and yet we can't cut her.  It's so rigid and strict the way the rules are set up, so there's no flexibility for any type of injury or situation like that, so it's difficult something that has to be addressed by the players in the next agreement, I think, to help themselves in those situations.

Q.  My question is for Coach Whisenant.  You picked Kelley Cain in the draft and she sat out her senior year because of injuries.  How do you look at incorporating her into the roster this season?
JOHN WHISENANT:  Kelley just got back from Turkey where she played three months.  We just have had her two days.  All of our folks basically just got here.  Kelley looks healthy.  She's big.  She's got some skills.  And she is, like all first‑year players, she'll have to learn to compete at this level, and I'm sure she won't do that quickly.  But she has talent.
When I drafted her, her team was scheduled to finish so she would make the first day of training camp.  In her league they delayed the start of the Playoffs 10 days, which made her just get here.  So that was something we hadn't expected.  We had thought we'd see her throughout our whole camp.
But I like what I see.  I think she's a prospect.  I don't see her as a difference maker in her first year in the league but somebody that can play some and will improve, and you don't grow 6'6" players with good hands every day?

Q.  A lot of your players have said that this season you're focusing on a strategy that you're calling white line.  Can you elaborate on what the white line defense strategy is and what competitive edge you think it'll give you this season?
JOHN WHISENANT:  You know, the white line has been thrown out for several years, just because some of our players back in Sacramento called it that, and it's really no different than all the coaches within the WNBA have a weak side defense.  We just happen to put a white line down the middle of the floor, and that's where you go to help when you're on the weak side of the ball.  It's nothing more.  It's been too much made of the white line defense.  It's really just weak side help.  Every coach that you have on here has some version of that in their defensive scheme.

Q.  This question is for Coach Kloppenburg.  I cover the Sparks here in Los Angeles and I'm familiar with Coach Ross' new approach.  You're also a new coach on your team.  What type of focus and approach are you bringing to the Tulsa Shock this year, and how is that working with the new players that you have?
GARY KLOPPENBURG:  Yeah, we've got a lot of new faces, and we held over a core of players from last year's team, but a lot of new faces through trades and with our draft.  So you know, we've got a good camp, a lot of high energy.  We've been throwing a lot of new things at them defensively and offensively.  It's really a new team.
So I think everybody is very excited and anticipating the start of the season, and it's been very good so far through camp.

Q.  Do you feel like you'll be contenders this year?
GARY KLOPPENBURG:  I wouldn't say that.  We just want to win a game.  We just want to be competitive.

Q.  You just looked good the other day so that's what I was wondering.
GARY KLOPPENBURG:  Yeah, obviously that was a shell of their team.  It really wasn't about beating Seattle, it was about us just trying to execute what we've learned so far in camp.  I think the positive out of that game was that we did win, and they know that feeling of winning.  I think in a situation like that, what this franchise has been in, that's important, just to get that feeling, even if it was an exhibition game.  So that was a plus there.

Q.  Gary, I haven't seen the transactions in the last two days, but I wanted to ask you about Lorin Dixon of Connecticut and what was the impetus in inviting her to camp and how has she performed and what do you see her future being?
GARY KLOPPENBURG:  We just released Lorin today, but she did a really good job.  We brought her in because Temeka Johnson was going to be late coming back from Europe, and we actually held her four or five days after Temeka got here, and she did a tremendous job.  We saw her up in the free agent camp up in Denver, and I really liked her energy.  And she battled.  Defensively she was as good as any of the point guards we had.  And she got better.  I think it will help her in her career getting overseas, but she battled in here, and that was what we wanted her to do was just come in here, compete and work hard, and she did that.  My hats off to her, she did a really good job coming into camp.

Q.  Gary, when you look at the team and you have a few key contributors that are going to be out either for the first half of the season like with Tiffany Jones, so you certainly have a lot of spots open in the rotation, and you guys brought an impressive class of rookies.  Can you talk about what you've seen from them in camp and what you think their roles can be specifically with Glory Johnson and Riquna Williams?
GARY KLOPPENBURG:  Well, Glory, she is just a high, high energy player.  She reminds me of kind of like a Kenneth Faried of Denver for the women's game.  She's all over the place.  You don't have to run a play for her.  She's going to score offensive boards or maybe get a steal.  She's just one of those energy players that impacts games with her intensity.
And then Riquna, we've been really pleased with her, just a very explosive guard.  Strong.  She kind of reminds me a little bit of Cappie the way she can just elevate from the three‑point and shoot it and can get to the rim.  So she's been‑‑ yeah, she's had an impact on our team so far.
So we're excited about our rookies and what they can bring to the team this year.

Q.  This is for Coach Hughes:  Can you talk a little bit about how you feel like your inside game is going to be, Danielle Adams coming back from her second season got injured, seems like Jayne Appel is still developing, you've got a player like Morrison, maybe people don't know that much about, and then Shameka Christon.  Can you talk about all those folks and how you feel about all of them on the team, if you feel they're going to impact your interior game?
DAN HUGHES:  Yeah, you actually did a pretty good job yourself of answering the question.  Yeah, I think it's going to be a little bit by committee.  Danielle Adams I think without question continues to get better.  The issue, just to be blunt, is how many minutes can we play her.  We've found maybe we can get 17 to 20 and keep the level of effectiveness going.
So with that said, it becomes kind of work by committee in a lot of situations.  This is a big year for Jayne, I think, to kind of step up and add to that situation, and Ziomara is an impressive young developing player that we'll work with.  But I think committee, to answer your question, can we be a little better?  I think we can certainly be a little more physical, I think we can certainly maybe rebound a bit better than we did.  But I think it's going to take several players to really solidify it.

Q.  Coach Ross, do you know at this stage or can you give us an idea how good a shape that Alana Beard is in, if she's still hobbled a little bit, or is she in a position where you can maybe put a percentage on how good she is right now?
CAROL ROSS:  Well, I mean, she looked awful good to me.  I mean, I don't know really how to compare it to her past.  She's very fit.  She's very agile, and she moves well, and she's competing very hard.
You know, if you didn't know there was a history with Beard, I don't think you would even think twice about her.  She looks really good.
THE MODERATOR:  Thanks, everybody, for joining us.

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